The General Court Of The Plymouth Colony Instituted A Legal Code
The General Court of the Plymouth Colony instituted a legal code, the first composed in North America, on October 4, 1636.
It guaranteed citizens a trial by jury and stipulated that all laws were to be made with the consent of the freemen of the colony.
The Library's American Treasures exhibition highlights one of the first published versions of this code, The Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimouth. This 1685 edition includes a reprint of the first edition, published in 1671, as well the laws that were enacted between 1671 and 1684.
The Plymouth Colony was founded by Pilgrims, Protestant dissenters from the Church of England who fled their native country in search of religious freedom. After a brief sojourn in Holland, they sailed for North America on the Mayflower arriving at Plymouth Rock in December 1620. The colony, located in the southeastern corner of present day Massachusetts, was soon surpassed in population and wealth by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered in Boston.
Plymouth Colony (sometimes New Plymouth) was an English colonial venture in North America from 1620 - 1691. The first settlement was at New Plymouth, a location previously surveyed and named by Captain John Smith. The settlement, which served as the capital of the colony, is today the modern town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. At its height, Plymouth Colony occupied most of the southeastern portion of the modern state of Massachusetts.
Founded by a group including separatists who later came to be known as the Pilgrims, Plymouth Colony was, along with Jamestown, Virginia, one of the earliest colonies to be founded by the English in North America and the first sizable permanent English settlement in the New England region. Aided by Squanto, a Native American, the colony was able to establish a treaty with Chief Massasoit which helped to ensure the colony's success. The colony played a central role in King Philip's War, one of the earliest and bloodiest of the Indian Wars. Ultimately, the colony was annexed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.
Plymouth holds a special role in American history. Rather than being entrepreneurs like many of the settlers of Jamestown, the citizens of Plymouth were fleeing religious persecution and searching for a place to worship their God as they saw fit. The social and legal systems of the colony were thus closely tied to their religious beliefs. Many of the people and events surrounding Plymouth Colony have become part of American mythology, including the North American tradition known as Thanksgiving and the monument known as Plymouth Rock. Despite the colony's relatively short history, it has become an important symbol of what is now labeled "American".